August 16, 2009

...And Not for Everyone

If you have read my last post (or even if you haven't), let me make a couple of things clear:
  • I don't think every unmarried person on the planet is called to sexual abstinence, but I do believe that those of us who are followers of Christ are called to that standard. It's not my job as a Christian to tell non-Christians how they should behave. It is my job to live my life as God calls a follower of Christ to live.
  • One of the issues singles in the church have whenever this issue is raised is a perception of smugness among our married peers. Whether that perception is real or imagined, I don't know. I do know that there's not much room for smugness in this area. Even if you waited until you were married to have sex, keep this in mind: if you were to find yourself single tomorrow, this would likely be an area you would find challenging, too.
  • While more and more single Christians are rejecting the idea of sexual abstinence, there are still many who believe that the Bible teaches celibacy for singles of all ages, and are faithful to that teaching.
  • This isn't about a specific denomination. It's about followers of Christ.
  • Becoming a poster child for middle-aged abstinence is not exactly among my lifetime goals. ;-)
People who only know me superficially assume I fit the Southern Baptist stereotype, but those who know me well would tell you that's not really the case. For instance, I can't read the quarterly (for you non-Baptists, that's the literature many Sunday school classes use) because it just makes me mad. Really mad. Generally I think Southern Baptist literature is written by pastors who would serve us all better if they'd just stick to their hillbilly congregations.

The last time I made the mistake of reading a quarterly lesson was a couple of years ago. The writer went on at length on a passage from Titus 2 about "older" women and drinking, suggesting that older women should not drink. Period. What my NIV Bible says specifically on the topic is "Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good." The writer of that lesson was guilty of slanting the material to fit Baptist tradition, despite what the Bible actually says on the topic.

What the Bible says on the issue is important, because medical science is coming to the same conclusion, that while older women should limit alcohol consumption, they are not being told they need to eliminate alcohol altogether. As is often the case with the teachings of the Bible, it turns out there are legitimate reasons behind the words. As we age, alcohol begins to affect us differently, and while there is a negative impact on both genders, older women are affected even more so than older men.

My point - and I do have one - is when we change the teaching to fit our own traditions or rationalizations, we water down the lessons of the Bible. I'm convinced that pragmatism is one of God's most underrated qualities. He doesn't give a list of rules to make everyone's life hard. He does call us to standards of behavior that elevate a society. Standards that show the world there is a difference when you put your faith in Him.

And so it is with sexual abstinence for Christian singles. While the world says that we are defined by our relationships, God says that the only relationship that should define us is our relationship with Him, through Jesus Christ. If we allow Him to guide us, the world should see something different in us, something transformational.

Here's what Paul said about that kind of transformed life in Romans 12:1-2 (The Message):
  • So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

August 15, 2009

Not Just for Kids - Not for Wimps Either

I was once at a seminar on relationships led by some local Christian counselors. Not surprisingly (at least not at the time) they discouraged sex outside of marriage...repeatedly.

There was a woman who wanted to argue the point. She said the Bible did not teach against sex outside of marriage, and that was only something the Puritans made up. The counselor then began to quote the Bible on this topic -- chapter and verse -- but she remained unconvinced.

In the years since then, the viewpoint of the woman behind me seems to have become much more prevalent. A few nights ago I listened -- uncharacteristically silently -- as a group of Christian friends discussed sex as though it is assumed in any dating relationship. A couple of days later I ran across a blog discussion on the topic, with a lot of Christians taking the same viewpoint.

There's a lot of blame to go around for this change in attitude about sexual sin. (I recognize that many will bristle at the suggestion there's still such a thing as sexual sin.) As a Southern Baptist, I come from a denomination that has a reputation for making up rules. No drinking, no dancing, and depending on where you grew up, maybe no card-playing or no smoking. All made-up rules. Now more and more Christians are convinced that abstaining from sex outside of marriage is just another made-up rule. They believe abstinence is just for kids, and that mature adults should be able to have mature sexual relationships.

But here's the problem. The call to sexual abstinence isn't a rule. It's a standard of behavior to which we are called to as followers of Christ. Sometimes we fail at it, but that's not an excuse to toss out the standard. It's a reason to lean on God a little more.

As much as I hate the 2-dimensional image of singles that I'm afraid some will get from this topic, I have a lot more to say about it, and I will in the days to come.

Sexual abstinence is not just for kids. And it's not for wimps either.

August 13, 2009

Why It Matters

Sometimes I am amazed at the speed with which a Facebook friend can go from listing their relationship as Married to It's Complicated to In a Relationship. A new relationship, not the relationship with the person to whom they were married just a couple months earlier. The person they were married to for years. The person they had children with. In the blink of an eye, they're in a new relationship. Sometimes they haven't even filed for divorce yet.

Has that become the new normal? Is it that people believe lines like "first you were half now you're whole" and all that followed it?

In my last post, I offered unsolicited advice to divorcing parents. A couple of items might seem particularly harsh, but when kids are involved, it's not just about you.

  • Whether you have decided to divorce or not, you are married until your divorce is final. Don't even think about dating - not online, and not in real life. Moving on too soon can be difficult for your children, and it's not wise for you on an emotional level. What your spouse chooses to do is beside the point. You are only responsible for your own choices.
  • Should you go through with a divorce, work on same-sex friendships before you start thinking about dating. A woman who acts boy crazy when her marriage fails makes bad choices and sets a horrible example for both daughters and sons. The same goes for men who start dating too soon.
You're used to having someone by your side, and it's natural to feel like a part of you is missing when you find yourself living without that person. That's how it's supposed to feel. It's a grieving process, and you have to work through that grief for the sake of your emotional health. It also shows your children how to get through a painful experience.

Why is dating too soon a bad example for kids? Because it teaches them that people you have loved are disposable. Younger kids will extrapolate that to mean that they're disposable, too. And if you're more concerned about your new relationship than you are in your children's adjustment to your separation, you're only reinforcing that view.

It gets more complicated with older kids. They may feel disposable, too. In addition to that, if they see you use a new relationship to boost your self-esteem, they're likely to do the same. That can lead to choices that will follow them throughout their lives. Half a person isn't going to be made whole by finding someone new, and you don't want your children to think relationships will solve everything.

I know how your actions impact your kids because my parents were divorced. My mom made some choices that must have been difficult for her, but she did what was best for her family. She showed us that faith in God will get you through anything. She taught me that the only relationship that will make you whole is a relationship with Christ. I love that about my mom.

August 12, 2009

Change is Hard

I have a couple of friends who were married in their 20s, and both have been single the last 25 years or so. As it happens, both got engaged this summer. At least one of them has expressed concern over the adjustment to married life after so many years on her own. But they're both bright women who have learned a lot in the last 25 years, and neither one has taken the decision to remarry lightly. I have every confidence that they'll work through whatever challenges come their way as they adjust to this happy chapter in their lives.

They'll have plenty of help. As I mentioned in one of my first posts, there are plenty of resources on marriage. There are books, there are magazine articles, there are marriage retreats, Dr. Phil counsels couples on marriage, and even the never-married Oprah offers marital advice. Both of my friends are involved in their respective churches, where there will likely be the obligatory marriage sermon series every couple of years. And of course churches affirm marriage in dozens of other ways.

But what about those who are adjusting to singleness after many years of marriage? We've watched a couple of high-profile marriages go through some rough times this summer. Just this past week, Jenny Sanford moved out of the South Caroline Governor's Mansion and plans to work on her marriage from a distance of 120 miles. It's a picture that is played out across the country every day.

Kate Gosselin has been making the talk show rounds this week answering questions about her marriage that seems to be beyond hope. It's a story we've all heard from friends in our lives.

And yet, Jenny Sanford, Kate Gosselin and all the others in their position won't get the same degree of support that couples receive. While those of us who have been single for decades have learned how to deal with singleness, those who have been married for many years often have a very difficult time navigating life on their own, particularly when there are children to raise.

Jenny Sanford is entering the marital limbo of the separated couple. While still married, it doesn't feel the same. She's probably not feeling single either. Even though the Gosselins have decided to divorce, that seems to be where Kate is, as well.

What would I tell these ladies and others in their position? While this advice is directed at women, it applies equally to men.

  1. Whether you have decided to divorce or not, you are married until a divorce is final. Don't even think about dating - not online, and not in real life. Moving on too soon can be difficult for your children, and it's not wise for you on an emotional level. What your spouse chooses to do is beside the point. You are only responsible for your own choices.
  2. Yes, your husbands have behaved stupidly and humiliated you in front of everyone you know. You can pour your heart out to your friends and vent about their bad behavior to them. What you cannot do, is vent to your children. Tearing the other parent down is an awful thing to do to kids, and it doesn't reflect well on you. After all, you're the one who chose this guy to be the father of your children. That's the first thing your kids will figure out. Over time, they'll make up their own minds about their dad's behavior. Painful as it is, you'll have to let that play out.
  3. Only vent to friends who are discreet, and don't vent in public. You don't want what you say to others to get back to your kids.
  4. Pay attention to what's going on with your kids. They don't want you to know that the pain you're going through is also creating havoc for them. Spend quality time with them. Stay on top of their schoolwork, make sure you know who they're hanging out with, and maintain the same expectations you have always had for their behavior. Don't let them fall through the cracks.
  5. Do not shut your spouse out of your kids' lives. They need both parents to be actively involved in their lives to get them through what is difficult time for them, too.
  6. Should you go through with a divorce, work on friendships with women before you start thinking about finding a new guy. A woman who acts boy crazy when her marriage fails makes bad choices and sets a horrible example for both daughters and sons. (Do I need to remind you again that this advice applies equally to men?)
  7. Find a support group. DivorceCare is a great group that can be found in many churches. You'll find other groups online, too. You'll learn that many of the feelings you're going through are the same feelings others have. It will help you to get your life back on track to know that you're not alone.
  8. Recognize that you made mistakes, too, and figure out what they are. Blaming your spouse will not help you to grow.
  9. Allow God to heal you, and allow Him to heal the relationship with your spouse as much as possible. Back to #1, what your spouse chooses to do is beside the point. You are only responsible for your own choices.
We all go through seasons of life. We never know how long the season will last, but we serve a God who knows all, and who is prepared to give us whatever we need, in the good times and the bad. Trust Him to be there for you.